One winter around 1878, strong-willed, fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross of Yell County travels to Fort Smith, AR to retrieve the corpse of her father who was killed by his hired hand, Tom Chaney, during a horse-buying trip. Although Chaney has fled into Choctaw territory beyond the jurisdiction of Fort Smith’s sheriff, Mattie is intent that the murderer receives retribution for her father’s death. After shrewd negotiations with horse trader, Col. Stonehill, Mattie obtains compensation for her family’s two horses that were stolen by Chaney from Stonehill’s stables and she sells back all the Mustang ponies bought by her father, except one, which she keeps for herself and names “Little Blackie.” She then inquires about hiring a deputy marshal to track down Chaney. Although three marshals are suggested to her, Mattie determines that the middle-aged, one-eyed, alcohol-sodden Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn is the best person for her purpose because of his reputation for an unrelenting lack of pity toward his quarry. Offering money from the sale of the ponies, she tells Rooster that he has “true grit,” and asks him to help her bring Chaney to justice. At first Rooster brushes her aside, but she stubbornly persists until he agrees. Meanwhile, La Boeuf, a Texas Ranger who has been pursuing Chaney for the killing of a Texas senator, has tracked the fugitive as far as Fort Smith and asks to partner with Rooster. La Boeuf offers his knowledge of Chaney, who he has pursued for several months, in exchange for Rooster’s knowledge of Indian Territory. Mattie is obstinately against La Boeuf ‘s participation in their search, because she wants to see Chaney hanged in Arkansas for her father’s murder and he wants Chaney tried in Texas where bounty money is offered. Mattie also insists that she accompany Rooster and Le Boeuf on the chase, but when she shows up at the appointed time to meet them, she discovers they have left without her. She follows them and, when refused a ride on a ferry, stubbornly fords the river on horseback. When she catches up, La Boeuf is annoyed by her feistiness and whips her until Rooster forces him at gunpoint to stop. As they travel, Rooster and La Boeuf constantly bicker and compete with each other, prompting La Boeuf to terminate their partnership and ride off alone. Mattie and Rooster continue riding to Bagby’s, a remote trading post, where they learn that someone, possibly one of Lucky Ned Pepper’s outlaw gang, recently bought supplies there and paid with a rare California gold piece that Mattie recognizes was stolen by Chaney from her father. Rooster points out that it is unclear whether Chaney has joined the gang or if the gang robbed and killed him. Guessing that the gang went north and that Chaney may be with them, Rooster and Mattie follow. Along the way, they encounter a rustic healer wearing a bearskin who directs them to a dugout cabin where they can spend the night. At the cabin they find Emmett Quincy and young Moon, who is suffering from an untreated gunshot wound. When asked about Chaney and Pepper, Quincy feigns ignorance, but Moon, who wants medical attention promised by Rooster, confirms that the gang was at Bagby’s two days earlier. To stop Moon from talking, Quincy chops off his fingers then throws a knife, mortally wounding him, and Rooster shoots Quincy dead. Before dying, Moon relates that Pepper’s gang is expected at the dugout that night. Rooster and Mattie lie in wait for the outlaws, but it is La Boeuf who arrives first. Before La Boeuf can be warned, the gang captures him with a lasso and drags him behind a horse. Rooster shoots several of the outlaws, and in the exchange of gunfire during which at least one outlaw escapes, La Boeuf bites his tongue and is shot in the shoulder, possibly by one of Rooster’s bullets. The next day, Rooster, Mattie and La Boeuf ride to a mine where they expect Pepper may take refuge, but instead find it deserted. Rooster’s drinking and his quarreling with La Boeuf cause the lawmen to again part ways. As La Boeuf prepares to leave them, Mattie asks to go with him, as she now believes she chose the wrong man for her mission. The dejected La Boeuf, however, says that the trail is cold and he is returning to Texas. The next morning, Mattie goes to the river for water and unexpectedly encounters Chaney. Armed with her father’s old gun, she tries singlehandedly to arrest him, but Chaney refuses to cooperate. She shoots, superficially wounding him, and the sound of the report alerts Rooster, as well as Pepper and other members of his gang. Pepper abducts Mattie and, threatening to kill her, calls out to Rooster to leave the area. After they are certain that Rooster is far away, the gang prepares to move on, but because they are short on horses, Chaney is left with Mattie until a horse can be sent to him. Pepper threatens to withhold Chaney’s pay if Mattie is harmed, but Chaney tries to kill her after the gang leaves. Responding to the sound of Mattie’s gunshot, La Boeuf arrives and knocks Chaney unconscious. From their location on a rock ledge, La Boeuf and Mattie can see Rooster in a clearing far in the distance. On horseback, Rooster faces off with Pepper and three gang members. Charging at them with his reins in his mouth and shooting guns with both hands, Rooster kills three of the men, but his horse is shot out from under him, pinning him to the ground. Although Pepper is wounded and possibly dying, he takes advantage of Rooster’s inability to move and aims to shoot him. However, from the rock ledge, La Boeuf shoots his high-powered Carbine rifle, killing Pepper before he can harm Rooster. Meanwhile, Chaney regains consciousness while Mattie’s and La Boeuf’s attentions are diverted and temporarily knocks out La Boeuf. Grabbing La Boeuf’s rifle, Mattie shoots Chaney, but the recoil knocks her backward into a snake pit, where she is bitten in the arm by a rattlesnake. Arriving soon after, Rooster climbs into the pit to get Mattie and La Boeuf pulls them out. La Beouf remains with Chaney’s body until Rooster can send help to him, but Rooster, aware that Mattie’s condition is critical, carries her in his arms and, on Little Blackie, races off for a doctor. After passing the outlaw’s corpses strewn along the meadow, Rooster and Mattie ride for hours, into the wintery night. As snow falls and Mattie turns delirious, Rooster pushes the pony beyond its endurance until the animal dies from exhaustion. Rooster then walks the remainder of the distance, carrying her. Breathing hard by the time they get near Bagby’s, Rooster shoots his gun in the air as a call for help and admits to himself that he has grown old. Mattie remains unconscious and, to save her life, her arm must be amputated by the doctor. When Mattie awakens, Rooster is gone, but she learns that he remained with her until he was certain she would survive. For a long time, Mattie does not hear from Rooster, who ignores her offer to pay him the money she owes for his services. Twenty-five years later, Mattie, a spinster and as strong-willed as ever, receives a brief message from Rooster that includes an announcement of his appearance in Cole Younger and Frank James’s Wild West Show. Mattie travels to Memphis where the show is playing, but learns from Younger that Rooster died three days earlier. She takes Rooster’s body home to bury in the Ross family plot. Although she would have welcomed hearing from La Boeuf, she never again sees him.